Trail Rations: How About Actual Trail Rations?

In previous Trail Rations articles I have talked about stews, snacks, and desserts to serve your players at the gaming table, both for immersion and bonding. Despite the series’ name, however, I don’t think I have discussed how to make foods we would think of as actual trail rations. So today let’s look at some snacks you can serve your players that their fantasy characters might recognize.

Traditionally, trail foods were “built” to last for a long time without recourse to refrigeration or other protected storage. They were usually dried, smoked, pickled, or made in such a way that they would remain shelf stable for (hopefully) long periods of time under most outdoor conditions. Dried fruits and berries are common examples, as are nuts and smoked or jerked meats.

Of course you can buy dried berries and fruits, along with nuts and jerkies of various kinds, at your local grocery store. A bowl or two of dried fruit, or a bowl of dried blueberries and cashews, for instance, provides a delicious snack and can help players immerse into the travelling experience in your fantasy game. You can also serve a plate of hard cheeses along with some jerkies and dense bread, if you are looking for more substantial trail fare.

Fantasy worlds are also famous for having their own potential more magical versions of trail food. The most famous of these comes to us from The Lord of the Rings, lembas bread. Poking around the internet, most recipes I see for making lembas bread use a shortbread recipe as its base. Since shortbread gets you something that looks like lembas bread, at least from what I remember from the movies, I’m going to stick with that.

Below is a recipe I use for shortbread that is quick and easy, and can be enhanced in a multitude of ways. You can toss in a cup of dried cranberries or blueberries, or a cup of any diced dried fruit, or add a cup of chopped nuts of choice (I prefer chopped walnuts but chopped peanuts, almonds, or hazelnuts are also good choices). You can even mix and match, experimenting with different combinations of fruits, berries, and nuts to find something you like. When adding these extra ingredients, remember to add them to the dry ingredients before you mix in the wet ingredients, as they’ll be easier to distribute through the dough that way.

Faux Lembas (Shortbread)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups butter or margarine
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 4 cups all-purpose white flour
  • 1⁄4 cup white sugar (optional, to sprinkle over the top)

Instructions

  1. Mix butter or margarine until light and fluffy.
  2. Add sugar and beat again till light and fluffy.
  3. Sift together flour and corn starch. If you are adding any additional ingredients (nuts, berries, chocolate chips, etc) now is the time to mix those through the dry ingredients. For this recipe I recommend no more than an additional cup and a half of ingredients.
  4. Add flour/cornstarch to butter/sugar mixture one cup at a time, making sure its well combined before adding another cup.
  5. Continue to combine flour into mixture until all is gone. Mix well.
  6. Line a medium sized cookie sheet with parchment paper (this isn’t 100% necessary, but it will make removing the shortbread easier) Dump dough onto it and spread out evenly, covering the whole sheet.
  7. Sprinkle 1/4 cup or less of sugar (can use coloured sugar), if desired.
  8. Bake at 325 for approx 20 minutes or until the edges are a light golden brown.
  9. When out of the oven, I cut the square or rectangles through the shortbread. You can also cut them into larger squares or triangles to better simulate the look of lembas bread. Wrap in large leaves for that perfect final touch.

There you have it, a delicious bit of fantasy trail food for your table. Serve it as the centerpiece to an assortment of other dried trail foods as a nice change of pace from the usual chips and dips. One final note: make sure everyone is hydrating! Dried foods by their very nature have no water and your players will find themselves getting thirsty sooner than later if they are partaking.

Of course, there are more delicious ways to hydrate than straight water. Next Trail Rations we’ll look at some fantasy beverages for your table. 

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